There will come a time (probably several times) in your career when you make a huge mistake. You’ll drop the ball on a client project, blank on something important, or hand in work missing essential parts. A project will be screwed irreparably. You’ll feel the weight of your boss’ scepter. You will let someone down.
Of course it is important to avoid mistakes in the first place, but as important as predicting, is to know how to say “I’m sorry” after the damage is done.
So what’s the best way to approach a blunder and apologize for it?
First remember, your mistake probably feels bigger than it actually is.
Any tough conversation comes with a fear of the unknown. Mulling over your mistake has probably magnified its importance. Relax.
Speak as a humble person, preferably face-to-face and using personal language. It’s important to actually say the words “sorry” or “apologize” and provide a clear, succinct indication of exactly what you’re apologizing for.
Here’s an example: “I know I really screwed up here, and I know I made you and your team look bad in the process. I want to apologize personally and figure out a way to turn it around. Are you open to talking about that?”
There’s probably an excellent and valid reason for your mistake. Now’s not the time to explain it. Take full responsibility without caveats. It’s the only way to begin to build back trust.
Sarah offered her client “ten hours of billable time for free, and to personally take care of any of the changes they needed.” Once you’ve admitted culpability and taken responsibility, it’s time to do what you can to fix it. Come up with a swift and actionable solution that you can undertake now.
Being a responsible person means taking accountability when you screw up, even if it tarnishes your reputation in the short term. The bright side is that everyone’s fallible; you might even come out of your mistake with a closer and more meaningful relationship.